The four roots of influence
There are swathes of literature about the elements, and what they could mean.
What’s important is how you understand them, and how you relate to them. We will go over some of the basic concepts of the elements, and through the journey of the cards we can start to view the experiences of each step we take elementally.
There are some blurred lines with esoteric study in regards to elements. We can see the elements on all levels of reality, from the whole seething mass of the Universe, right down to the atomic level. So where should a line be drawn when working with the paths? To see this clearly, we must observe only what our physical senses, and internal processing allows (we’ll get to influences beyond our senses later).
There are two elements which govern us, one that we can affect, and one that crowns us.
There are subtle influences as these elemental forces interact in varying degrees. Astrology is a great tool for seeing analogies to our elemental mixtures through real life. Astrology has gained a bad reputation through misrepresentation of what it truly can be used for. As you move through the paths of the tarot, you’ll see Astrology is a system that mirrors humankind’s emotional & mental struggle with living, its attempt to resolve and understand its being.
The four elements are seen in varying states in Astrology, they mix, react, grow in influence, stay a while, and then they leave. These influences are meant to portray the complex journey through life, the struggles we face, and metaphysical meanings to help us through the challenges we face.
When a natal chart is drawn up, we see the ‘weighting’ of each element, and where our soul is heading (the Ascendant). You get an outline of what makes you up, and what’s going to be impressed on you as a person. You get shaped by forces, only to end up on a path to shatter those bonds, and solve the deeper questions rolling around in your mind. Using tools like Astrology or the Tarot we can parse different parts of the self to get a better look at the whole.
One element is different from the rest
There are three very tangible elements. The physical body (Earth) which supports the chemistry (Water), and the mind (Air). Fire is the odd one out. As an analogy, fire isn’t something that occurs by itself, and needs some material to combust, or other methods to create the heat.
Fire is an anomaly that is sometime attributed to inspiration, a fitting identifier for something that can spread when it works! In qabalah, fire is at the base of things. It’s assigned to the yod that starts the tetragrammaton, and it’s the ‘big bang’ of the occult pathway walked by many.
Fire is a subtle and powerful force, which can be seen by lighting a candle in the darkness – it can be seen for a great distance. It’s also a destroyer, a blackener, a furious force that is impartial in its destruction. Fire in nature is that instigator of death and renewal. It boils the seas, scorches the earth, consumes the air – it’s a king of the elements.
It’s important to understand the powers for both construction and deconstruction for all the elements. When you get into the occult, you can find all sorts of magical spells, incantations, and mystical things you can do. These things can cause more problems than solutions sometimes, and they contain powers of the elemental forces at play in the Universe that is yourself. Treat all material with respect, the same respect we show a live grenade. Some advocate ‘get burned, get learned’ approach, but there’s no harm in learning more about forces at work before running away with a newly learned perception.
Consider yourself as an archer. You learn the strength to pull back the bowstring, you learn to command your breathing to hold still, you learn to look clearly at your target to understand it, and make things easy on yourself by creeping forward with knowledge until you’re close enough no to miss.
The personal elements
Each element is a lens we can use to analyse the self. We can see our qualities, failings, fragility, and a multitude of aspects in the self in terms of the elements and the way they can mix. The largest influence and most readily identifiable is the conflict and pressure felt on the path of the tower.
As we carve a channel of understanding up the paths on the tree, we face the challenges presented in a mixture of various elements in different ways. These become more understood as we use the cards to relate to ourselves. We start to get the shape and form of the nature of each card as we project onto it. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough… Our own projections may suffer from preconceptions, distortions of truth, and limited by the very senses we perceive the world through. Every step must be observed, evaluated for correctness where possible. The archer moves closer to their target.
A good model for the weighting of the elements is modulation. There are changes that happen along the pathways of the tree, and some of these might be cards that seem to present complex, evolving natures. Some cards like the moon present a single present corporeal function, with a depth that is dependant on the situation in hand. The moon portrays the chemical modulation within our very body that causes a multitude of influences. Happiness, sadness, sickness, physiological shifts, modulating.
In someways there’s a meta concept to reading the cards. We should look at their suit to see what world that they are present in. You might find a reading full of swords, and some of the other cards disk based – showing that the air is descending. This paints the picture of a third dimension to the readings made from the cards. If using a typical tree of life reading (10 cards, on each sephiroth), you could also imagine that the card would be pointing to where the energy is flowing – this becomes a complex portrayal that fits well with our complex natures.